WVU basketball: Mountaineers win it their way
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia got the win it needed Saturday by playing the way it wanted.
Confident in the matchups and energized by a frenzied sequence in the second half that featured two technical fouls, the Mountaineers thrived in a gritty game and beat No. 8 Notre Dame, 72-58, before 12,298 inside the Coliseum.
"From the film we watched of Notre Dame, we didn't think too many teams challenged them as much toughness-wise and really got after them," said point guard Joe Mazzulla. "I thought we really did that and continued to do that and I think at some point they thought were going to lay it down and we didn't. It definitely helped us and it kept us in our comfort zone and while we were able to take them out of theirs."
WVU (17-9, 8-6 Big East) snapped its four-game losing streak against ranked teams. It was the second home win against a top-10 team this season, the first time that's happened since 2006.
The Fighting Irish (21-5, 10-4) had their seven-game winning streak come to an end and lost their third in a row at the Coliseum.
"I thought West Virginia was really ready to play," said Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey. "We really didn't do well offensively and I think that was a lot of West Virginia and the atmosphere here. We tried to make a couple runs, but they hit some big shots."
Leading the charge was perhaps WVU's most unlikely source. Truck Bryant, stuck in an awful and prolonged shooting slump, erupted in the second half with four 3-pointers and 20 of his game-high 24 points.
He finished 5-for-11, but was 5-for-7 in the second half and 4-for-6 from 3-point range.
Not since New Year's Day had Bryant scored as many points or made as many baskets and 3-pointers. He was 9-for-18 from the floor and 4-for-6 from 3-point range for a career-high 25 points in a loss at Marquette. He was 25-for-106 in the 13 games since.
"It's a huge sigh of relief," Bryant said. "I haven't been playing good at all and haven't been doing anything. I felt like I haven't been helping the team in any ways. For now, I'm happy to make shots and get this win in front of a big crowd."
Joe Mazzulla had 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds and Kevin Jones added 14 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. It's the third time this season all three have been in double figures. The Mountaineers have won all three.
"If we're all scoring at the same time the way we were (Saturday)," Bryant said, "we're almost an unbeatable team."
WVU is now tied for seventh place in the Big East and a game out of fourth place. The Mountaineers play Thursday at No. 2 Pitt, which lost at St. John's Saturday.
"We're taking this thing seriously," Jones said. "We're playing for our NCAA Tournament lives."
Ben Hansbrough led Notre Dame with 19 points. He added seven rebounds. Carleton Scott had 11 and 11 rebounds and Tyrone Nash added 10 points. The Irish shot 35 percent for the game, the second-worst number this season
"I thought our defense, for a 40-minute period of time, was better than it's been in a long, long time," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said, "but we also made shots."
Notre Dame led at the half, but WVU won the second half by 15 points. It's the first time in six games and the fourth time in 14 Big East games the Mountaineers have outscored the opponent in the second half.
"We've been paying attention to the last couple games and we've laid down in the second half the last couple games," Jones said. "We didn't want to do that again. We made it our focus to keep up the intensity in the second half."
The Mountaineers made 13 of their first 16 shots in the second half, including two 3s by Bryant, and built a 10-point lead in six minutes. The lead dipped to five and then went back to 10 and stayed there for a few minutes, which is where WVU has found trouble lately.
Mazzulla missed a layup amidst contact and teammate Deniz Kilicli and Notre Dame's Jack Cooley fell to the floor. Huggins screamed at official Tim Higgins, who was near the play, and received his second technical foul in as many games.
"I thought there was a foul and I kind of expressed that, maybe too vehemently," Huggins said. "You're not supposed to have any emotion, I guess."
Notre Dame made two free throws, but WVU scored the next seven points to take a 57-42 lead, the largest of the game. Included were two free throws when Brey was assessed a technical for arguing a blocking call.
The Mountaineers never led by fewer than 10 points the final 8:23. When Notre Dame got to within 10, Bryant made the second of back-to-back 3s.
"We did a much better job closing out the game," Huggins said.
WVU shot 53.8 percent in the second half, even while finishing 1-for-10. The Irish shot 34.5 percent after halftime, the lowest by a WVU opponent the past six games.
"We didn't shoot 25 percent in the second half, we didn't get outrebounded by 10 in the second half, we didn't let the opponent shoot 60 percent in the second half," Mazzulla said, reciting some of his team's recent woes. "If you do all those things and play a compete game, you should be able to sustain your strengths."
Notre Dame led for the first 11 minutes of the game and never trailed by more than two points in the first half, but was only up 27-26 at the half. The Mountaineers were 8-for-28, but the eighth basket was a big one as Mazzulla went end to end on an inbound play and made a layup with six seconds to go.
"I told them at halftime that I didn't know if we could play any harder than what we played in the first half," Huggins said. "I thought we played real, real hard. I just didn't think we could play any worse offensively than how we played. We didn't make any shots at all. We had good shots. But then Truck got it going a little bit."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.